Science in My City: Using Photography to Make Science More Relevant

Charlease Kelly-Jackson, Ed.D, Kennesaw State University, Bagwell College of Education, PDS Liaison,

Cindy Szwec, Ed.D, Fair Oaks Elementary, PDS Principal,

Taylor Davis, Riverside Intermediate Elementary, Fifth Grade Teacher,

Kassell Lebert, Powers Ferry Elementary, Third Grade Teacher,


Science content knowledge is an integral part of being an educated citizen in this global and technological society; however, “for students unfamiliar with the language or style of science, the deceptively simple act of communication can be a barrier to understanding or becoming involved with the science” (Hines, Wible, & McCartney, 2010, p. 447).  This is especially problematic for English language learners (Rosebury & Warren, 2008) whose teachers continue to place greater emphasis on the verbal or linguistic way of processing knowledge rather than the visual. It is imperative that teachers provide students with the abilities and techniques to interpret, demonstrate, and apply learning to new situations (Vasquez, Comer, & Troutman, 2010).

Visual images give meaning to words and provide alternatives to words as a means of communication. As teachers, we must not only acknowledge students’ units of knowledge but what they can do with the knowledge (Vasquez, Comer, & Troutman, 2010). Developing visual literacy skills is one approach to helping students reach that high level of cognition. Visual text, such as photography, is a tool that represents an abstract concept or series of concepts. Photographs can capture the meaning of a concept far more easily than pages of written text (2010). As a matter of fact, the concept becomes even more significant and relevant when the student is the photographer. The photographs become the center of the discussion while the student serves as the expert or initiator of the conversation (Luttrell-Rowland, 2006).

To get a sense of how personal experiences connect to science, three preservice teachers at Kennesaw State University conducted a “Science in My City” project with a third grade class at Fair Oaks Elementary. The project allowed forty-three third graders to take pictures of ‘science in their city’ for four weeks. Students were divided into three groups and assigned a preservice teacher who worked with them during homeroom, computer lab, recess and/or afterschool. As the final product, students created PowerPoint presentations detailing where the pictures were taken; how the picture connected to Earth, life, or physical science concepts; and science academic vocabulary associated with the picture. Data revealed that students connected primarily with life and Earth science concepts. Students took pictures of parks, rivers, rocks, trees, leaves, grass, flowers, water, etc. During the school’s Leaders Loving Math and Science Night, students orally presented their findings and were able to use science academic vocabulary (such as rocks, minerals, soil, exposed roots, erosion, weathering, life cycle) to describe items and/or activities in their photographs.

Photographs of physical science concepts were limited; however, this could have been attributed to the emphasis on life and Earth science concepts prior to the beginning of the project. Nevertheless, students were able to ‘see’ the relevance of science and how it is embedded into many aspects of their lives. The following quotes demonstrate how students felt or what they learned from the project:


“I think science is not all about one area, it is everywhere.”

Science is everything. Before I did my project I did not know this.”

“When I took my pictures it made me want to learn more about science and I learned that science is not just in the classroom.”

*Project supported by Kennesaw State University’s Bagwell College of Education Research Award



Hines, P. J., Wible, B., & McCartney, M. (2010). Learning to read, reading to learn. Science, 328(5977), 447.

Luttrell-Rowland, L. (2006). A photovoice relationship: Collaboration and difference in photovoice methodology. In Proceedings of the National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR) (pp. 3079-3084). Asheville, NC: The University Of North Carolina at Asheville.

Rosebery, A. & Warren, B. (2008). Teaching science to English language learners: Building on students’ strengths. Arlington, VA: National Science Teachers Association Press.

Vasquez, J.A, Comer, M., & Troutman, F. (2010). Developing visual literacy in science K-8.  Arlington, VA: National Science Teachers Association Press.